Since the beginning of the 21stcentury, we have been living in a world of greater digital connectivity. Technology, and particularly mobile technology, is part of our way of life, and is so in so many ways that were unimaginable in the last century. This move into a digital lifestyle is part of a broader technological movement known as transhumanism.
Transhumanism is a transitory period from a biological, evolutionary, humanity (homo sapiens sapiens) to a post-human future where humans in this traditional sense are only one of three possible sentient entities, the other two being artificially intelligent robots (robotus sapiens) and technologically altered human known as cyborgs (homo cyborgus). There is no fixed date by when we become post-human but it is generally assumed to be several hundred, and possibly even a thousand, years into the future. The transitory period to this post-human future is known as transhumanism. Since the start of the 21stcentury, we have been living in the transhuman period.
Since the start of the 21stcentury, we have been experiencing vastly changing social and economic conditions and with the advent of the digital lifestyle a new discipline has emerged which studies the impact of technology on our lives. This discipline is known as cyborg anthropology (http://cyborganthropology.com/Main_Page). (All of the concepts discussed below can be found in more detail on this web site) Cyborg anthropology studies at least four distinct subject areas: the second self; the social experience of technology; digital space and time; and cognitive enhancement.
The ‘second self’ is an area of our digital lifestyle that is occupying more and more time of our everyday experience although we are often unaware of the demands that it makes on us. The ‘second self’ is the self that we create, develop, and maintain in social media platforms such as Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, e-harmony, etc. To understand this phenomenon, think of the ways we presentourselves on Facebook and how this might differ from the presentation of our self on, eg, Linkedin or e-harmony. We spend a lot of time creatingthese second selves, maintainingthese presentations e.g. by updates, and further developing these presentations. This second self becomes in time a separate, though related, entity to our original self and my original self will experience a range of emotions when the second self is supported or criticized.
There are various concepts that cyborg anthropology studies that are related to the second self. There is the process of Identity Formationwhereby our second self is created, perhaps with the assistance of a Templated Self, which is the area a social media platform allows us to provide information in the creation of our self. For example, a Linkedin template will be quite different to an e-harmony or Facebook template. This multiplicity of different presentations is known as a Distributed Persona. One important aspect of the second self that relates to cyber-security is Location Sharingwhere people freely share information about where they are and what they are doing at any moment in time. One final interesting aspect of the second self is the idea of Celebrity as Cyborg. While the use of the word ‘cyborg’ may be misleading here, the key point is that the creation, maintenance, and development of a second self is not dissimilar to the process of identity formation that a celebrity employs to market their image. This might include such activities as the creation of manipulated ‘air-brushed’ images of the self, the telling of overwhelmingly emotional, whether positive, tragic, or comic, narratives about their lives, the inclusion of stories and images of the extended family, and so on.
The social experience of technology is an area of critical importance to our own positive and healthy social relationships. One of the key areas in this respect is Social Punctuation. This occurs when ordinary social interaction is interrupted or punctuated by the need to refer to a technological device, typically a mobile phone. Also important in the experience of Ambient Awarenessand Ambient Intimacy, the former being when we are aware of another’s experiences without being physically close to them or without directly requesting specific information, while the latter is the experience of intimacy through technology, where our intimate connection with another is only ‘the click of a button away’. This is also called Continual Partial Friendship. This state of being as close as a click of a button is also called The Technological Womb. When all connection and socialisation is available at a click of a button, this can be called a womb-like state. In a very real sense, every thing – every emotion, experience, or thought – is the same distance away.
Another important aspect of the social experience of technology is called Simultaneous Time. This refers to our capacity to be in several different digital locations – Facebook, SMS, Twitter, etc. – at the same moment in time. Our capacity to experience time in its immediacy is disrupted by the various requirements of social media and other forms of technology. Related to this experience is Elastic Timeor Plastic Timewhich refers to social experiences which are highly interruptible and centred around the immediate concerns of technology. Relevant to this experience is that known as Temporarily Negotiated Spacewhere a technology user, such as someone making a mobile phone call, occupies a public space on a temporary basis and which is often implicitly negotiated with those people around him or her. This is also relevant to Boundary Maintenancewhere certain boundaries are delimited in digital or physical space, for the purposes of using the technology. The concept of Tele-Cocooningis similar to this, where one person connects with another in a digital ‘cocoon’. Another related concept is Hyperpresence where, due to the accelerated speed of social interaction through technology and social media, the self of a person is present in a variety of different locations.
Other related ideas include Compulsion Loopswhere a system of intermittent reinforcing by social media requires a constant or compulsive monitoring of our technology, the Little Brother Syndromewhich is where, instead of ‘Big Brother’ watching down on us all the time, we continually share our information so that we can be constantly monitored by others, and Junk Sleep, where deep REM sleep is not achieved because we are using digital technology right up to the moment that we fall asleep. As a result, we often have very unsatisfying, ‘junk’, sleep. One final important idea is that of Persistent Paleontology. This refers to the way that a person, in relation to electronic media, increasingly act in a way that is paleontological. That is, electronic data about our personal identity is stored in layers that we need to excavate in order to recapture its meaning.
The third important area of our new digital lifestyle is the digital enhancement of our cognitive and emotional abilities. One aspect of this is Distributed Cognitionwhere we can access knowledge banks, such as Wikipedia, that are spread, or distributed, across the web. Another is the use of a Device as Memorywhere, when we wish to recall a particular item of information, we know longer attempt to remember that item but, instead, access it through a device such as a mobile phone. Related to this activity is a Hyperlinked Memorywhere we access our own memories through data stored on an external device. The combination of all of these factors and processes is called the Extended Nervous System. The nervous system extends beyond its present physical boundaries and incorporates various digital cognitive and emotional attributes. The sum effect of all these processes is not always positive and sometimes lead to an experience called Mental Fragmentation. This occurs when a person performs several tasks at once (known as a ‘Multitasker’) cannot recall all the various bits of information and suffers in the performance of those tasks. The demands of Multitaskingleads to a need for Unitasking, or the simplification of tasks done to the most basic unit. Unitasking describes the act of focusing on only task at a time, such as reading and understanding this sentence.
The final aspect our digital lifestyle is the creation of technological time and space. For example, with Space and Time Compression, objects and possessions, such as music and photos, that traditionally occupied significant areas of the physical world now exist in a digital format on tiny devices with large digital memories such as hard drives or USB sticks. This is also called the Automatic Production of Space. The ease of this compression leads to a phenomenon known as Digital Hoardingwhere we keep digital items which we don’t review but simply keep in their multiplicity because it is so easy to do so. Also relevant is the existence of Technosocial Wormholewhich is the compression of an experience of space and time due to technology such as taking a mobile phone call. As we take the call, we exist in a ‘wormhole’ that is independent of the Space and Time we are currently inhabiting.
Beyond the present environment of transhumanism, there are a number of challenging ideas that present themselves in the post-human future. A Consciousness Slumis a dystopian afterlife condition where an uploaded consciousness exists only in a digital state. An Artificial Heavenis the suspension of a body while the mind continues to exist, either in a simulation or in a connection with others.
The leading commentator in cyborg anthropology is Amber Case. Here are two brief talks by her on cyborg anthropology (from a 2010 Ted Women talk)
And this one from 2018, especially on Calm Technology
And from 2015 on Designing for the Internet of Things.
Calm technology is a type of information technology where the interaction between the technology and its user is designed to occur in the user’s periphery rather than constantly at the center of attention. Information from the technology smoothly shifts to the user’s attention when needed but otherwise stays calmly in the user’s periphery. This is in contrast to Panic Architecture which is a participatory architecture such as Facebook, that demands compulsive interaction and attention. Digital panic occurs when multiple systems of intermittent reinforcement concurrently demand a user’s attention.